JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH TONI TOYRAS FROM ROVANIEMI, LAPLAND !
Toni Töyräs is a 28 years old Photographer and Content Creator based in Finnish Lapland. He is an adventurer, specialized in Nordic Outdoors photography. Having lived his whole life in Lapland, he really takes inspiration from the Nordic scenery and outdoor activities. He believes in Finnish Lapland, one doesn’t have to go far to find the perfect scenes for photography – that’s why it is wonderful to live there. According to Toni, Rovaniemi has it all – it’s a magical place with varying views and landscapes, great people, culture and activities.
Lapland an ethno-cultural region inhabited by the indigenous Sámi people, is a region which covers not only Finland but also northern Sweden, Norway and part of Russia‘s Kola Peninsula. Finnish Lapland is Finland’s northernmost region and makes up about 1/3 of Finland’s total area. It is famous for Aurora watching, national parks, ski resorts and wilderness. There are 21 municipalities in Finnish Lapland but only 3.6% of Finland’s population lives in Lapland.
Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, is Europe’s largest city in terms of size and the central hub of Lapland. It is a magical place where the sun doesn’t set for weeks in summer and doesn’t rise for weeks in winter.
The official residence of Santa Claus is the number one reason most tourists come to Rovaniemi. You can meet the Santa Claus and his reindeers at the Santa Claus Village (open 365 days a year and located at the Arctic Circle) or at the Santa Park (an indoor Christmas theme park). They can be reached by the Santa Express direct bus service or using bus line 8 (Only goes to Santa Claus Village) from Rovaniemi.
What is it like to live in Lapland?
Having lived in Lapland my whole life, I couldn’t imagine living in a big city. One of the things I love about living in Lapland, away from the hustle and bustle, you can instantly get away from the daily stress to the peace of nature, where you can enjoy silence, fresh air and just relax.
I really take inspiration for my own work from the Nordic scenery and outdoor activities. We got a great variety of activities that you can do – for the example backpacking, hiking and canyoning are often featured in my photographs. In Finland, you don’t have to go far to find the perfect scenes to enjoy our beautiful nature. That’s why it is wonderful to live here.
Lapland is, without doubt, one of the best places to visit in Finland. It’s pleasing to see how Finnish Lapland has become an international phenomenon and see that people around the world are willing to travel to Finnish Lapland to experience our environment and activities.
Is it true that there are eight seasons in Lapland? What according to you is the best season to visit Rovaniemi?
Yes, it feels like we’ve eight seasons in Lapland. The four main seasons have been supplemented as if by four semesters. The changing of the seasons in Lapland is clearly noticeable. For the example winter starts off as dark cold in November, but after Polar night, it changes into bright and sunny days when the springtime is getting closer. Besides our nature being so diverse, we also have totally different seasons – and every one of them offers a great possibility.
Winter: In my opinion winter is the best time of year you could come to Rovaniemi and Lapland. In winter Finnish Lapland is as close as reality gets to a true winter wonderland. Even though, we have a very limited amount of daylight and the sun barely rises above the horizon. This time period is known as “polar night”- the sky is usually toned with amazing pink hues before quickly changing into a starry night sky with hopefully some cool lights dancing on the sky.
Summer: Summer in Finland is a spectacular time of the year – in the northern Lapland, the sun does not set at all and it is possible to do all the same things that you would do during the day. We also have lots of outdoor activities like backpacking, hiking and canyoning. Good way to enjoy Finnish Lapland in the Summer is discovering the beauty of Finland’s national parks.
Autumn: Autumn is a spectacular time to stay outside, when autumn colors color everything in warm tones. As temperatures drop, the foggy mornings are beautiful. In the autumn, there is still plenty of natural light before winter takes over. In addition to the glorious colors of fall, autumn also means the beginning of the Northern Lights season.
Considering most tourists in Finland, land in Helsinki, what do you suggest is the best way to reach Rovaniemi (by air or land)?
Easiest and the fastest way to travel from Helsinki to Rovaniemi is via air. During the high season there are lots of flights from the morning till evening. Finnair and Norwegian Air International are the main carriers and flight duration is only around 80 minutes. Check the official website of the airport and airport bus for further information.
Other viable way to travel is via train that takes around 12 hours to reach to Rovaniemi. You can take the Santa Claus Express which is a Finnish double-decker night train. It travels from Helsinki to Kemijärvi in Lapland and stops at Rovaniemi. Buy a seat, a berth, a private compartment or take a car with you if you want. Car-carriers are attached separately to the ordinary train, so you need to drive the car into the car-carrier and walk to the regular station platform to board the train.
Finland’s passenger rail network is run by VR. All trains can be booked online at their website. Booking 3 to 4 months before the trip will help you get cheaper tickets. Incase you need help contact Finnish customer service on Facebook or call their customer service.
What are the three best places to visit in Rovaniemi other than the official residence of Santa Claus?
Three of my favorite places to visit in Rovaniemi are Kuninkaan laavu, Ounasvaara fell & Arctic Circle Hiking Area. These places offer some wonderful views and they are also easily accessible.
Kuninkaan laavu is located at Santavaara Hill at approx. 7.6 km from the city centre to north, upstream the Ounasjoki river. The Kuninkaanlaavu is a log-built three-sided shelter (also called lean-to) constructed on bare rocks. The lean-to offers magnificent views over River Ounasjoki and villages Ylikylä and Nivankylä. Both lean-tos have benches and a campfire site.
Located just a couple of kilometres from the centre of Rovaniemi is the hillsides and forests of Ounasvaara fell, an all year-round recreational area. The Ounasvaara winter trail leads you to magical forests and landscapes. It is also a great place to practice numerous sports, with Santasport – Lapland Sports Academy being just on the slopes of Ounasvaara. There is an observation tower which offers magnificent views over the city centre and the Kemi River. Nearby is Ranua Zoo where you can spot fifty wild species amidst northern woods. There are Arctic fox, reindeers, wolverines, moose and polar bears. Daily coach service are operated by Matkahuolto to Ranua Zoo.
The Arctic Circle Hiking Area lies a 20 minutes drive away from the city in the north of the Arctic circle. It can also be reached by the Wild Nordic Bus. There are two starting points, the falls of Vaattunkiköngäs and Vikaköngäs, from where you can walk into the woods and cross the Arctic Circle. There are information boards and maps at both the rapids.
What are the best daytrips to take when in Rovaniemi?
Ylläs and Levi fells are ~2h drive away from Rovaniemi. Ylläs, located 150 kilometres above the Arctic circle, is made up of seven fells and two villages, Ylläsjärvi and Äkäslompolo. It is a skiing resort with the highest skiing fell in Finland. Levi is the largest ski resort in Lapland with 43 slopes. These are one of our favourite places to go and it doesn’t matter what season it is. You’ll find lots activities there from skiing to nice hikes.
Lots of people are discovering the beauty of Finland’s national parks. Besides enjoying the beautiful sceneries, you can do lots of stuff like hiking, climbing, snowshoeing and other outdoor pursuits. For example, Oulanka National Park & Syöte national park are ~2h drive away from Rovaniemi.
Close to Oulanka is the Riisitunturi National park which is very famous & good place to have trips. Pyhä-Luosto is also good day trip location. It is about 120km from Rovaniemi airport. The Pyhä-Luosto National Park lies between the resorts of Pyhä and Luosto. Take the epic trail between the park’s two most famous fells – Pyhä and Luosto.
What adventure activities can one indulge in if visiting Rovaniemi in winters?
In the winter there are lots of activities you can do in Rovaniemi. There are lots of husky and reindeer tours, you can drive a snowmobile, do a snow-shoe hike or try ice fishing. There are also Ounasvaara fell where you can snowboard and skiing or try cross-country ski.
And of course, the Northern Lights are visible during winters so even though it is dark there is always something to do in Finnish Lapland.
If you are not afraid of cold, I’d also suggest trying a refreshing dip in icy water (and sauna!).
What adventure activities can one indulge in if visiting Rovaniemi in summers?
Summer in Finland may be short, but we surely know how to make the most of it. Contrasts are a key factor in Finnish Lapland where 24-hour sunlight in the summer replaces the dark and cold winter days.
We Finns like to spend our summer at a cottage where we can take it easy. One of my favorite things is run straight from the sauna to cold fresh lake. There’s no better way to enjoy the summer than having a midnight swim under the never setting sun!
One great way to explore Rovaniemi is with a fat bike – there are lots of new and fantastic trails and routes. Also, it’s worth to rent a canoe and go explore!
Are the Arctic Snow hotel & Glass Igloos worth staying or over hyped? Any suggestion on where to stay in Rovaniemi?
I think if you really want to experience something totally new, you should stay in the glass/aurora igloos! Nowadays you’ll find almost all over the Lapland these. I haven’t ever stayed a night in a place like this but maybe someday!
Personally, I prefer cabins over hotels because I like the cabin vibes. There are also lots of cabins for rent all over the Lapland. Usually cabins are a little further from the city and they are close to nature and far from neighbors.
With such harsh weather conditions, how do Lapland locals stay warm, what are your tricks?
It really does get freezing cold in Lapland in the winter. You just need to gear up right and make the most of the fresh white season – enough layers and warm materials and you’ll be fine! Also, I’m usually carrying in my back bag hand-warmers and hot drinks.
When I was younger, I didn’t enjoy cold weather at all but now I can’t wait for the bone chilling snow up to the knees!
One of my favorite things are warming up at the bonfire with hot berry juice and wait when the lights will start their show on the sky.
What is the most loved local food, savoury and sweet of Rovaniemi?
If you ever visit Finland, you should try these:
Local food: Poronkäristys (reindeer, served with mashed potatoes)
Sweet: Leipäjuusto ja hilla (Oven-cooked cheese + cloud berries)
In my hometown Rovaniemi if you are searching good restaurants, I’ll recommend visiting:
- Restaurant Nili for Lappish dishes
- Roka for Street food with a Lappish vibe
- Kauppayhtiö for burgers e.g. Reindeer burger
- Pure Pizza for pizza
- Café & Bar 21 for sweets e.g. Waffles
Lapland is dominated by Sami people, are they any different than the rest of us?
The Sami people are the only indigenous people in Finland and the European Union – they’ve lived since early times in the vast northern territories of Scandinavia. They’ve a rich cultural heritage. If you’re interested in Sami culture, you’ll find more information here or by visiting Lapland for yourself.
Which is the best time of the year to spot Aurora Borealis in Rovaniemi and from where?
The Northern Lights season in Finnish Lapland spans from mid-August until early April. The thrill of witnessing the Northern Lights is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many!
Autumn is definitely great time for spending time outdoors and fun fact:
September is the warmest time to catch the aurora !
But personally, I like shooting Auroras more in the winter when spruce trees are loaded with heavy snow and you feel like walking around giant snow sculptures. I’m still feeling like a kid when I see these lights starting their dance on the sky. Even though I’ve seen them hundreds a times, it always feels like a new and fascinating thing.
There are lots of places where you can go to see Auroras – usually the best places are outside of the city because there is no light pollution e.g. Olkkajärvi or Norvajärvi in Rovaniemi region.
Would you recommend any guided Northern Lights and photography tour to people?
If you don’t know how to shoot Auroras or you haven’t rent a car and you want to see the lights for the first time, I think you’d do a guided tour and hope you’ll get lucky and see the Northern Lights. There are lots of photography/Aurora Borealis tours you can easily book in Rovaniemi.
Apart from apps on Northern Lights forecast are there any other helpful apps for tourists?
THINGS TO KNOW :
Visa : A Schengen Visa is valid for entering Finland. General required documents for Finland Visa application can be found here.
Tap water : In Finland tap water is among the highest quality in the world and has been found to be significantly cleaner than bottled water.
Electric Socket : In Finland the standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency is 50 Hz.
Drones : Flying drones is legal in Finland. Here are the requirements you need to fulfill.
Bonus Tips :
- If visiting in Summers, don’t forget to carry a mosquito repellent to co-exist with Lapland mosquitoes.
- Download from here an interactive or static tourist map of Rovaniemi.